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* As children aged 0-3 continue to be looked after mainly by their mothers or other relatives, there is still a need to reach these caregivers – especially the least well educated or informed – with messages about the need for stimulus in early childhood.

* Child day care is starting to become a policy issue, mainly for reasons of encouraging women’s employment. Community-based models could empower mothers and make child day care services available to a wider cross-section of the population.

* The government has been expanding preschool education rapidly in recent years, mainly by opening preschool classes attached to state primary schools. It has now declared a goal of 100% enrolment for the 48-60-month age group by 2013 (As of 2012, primary school is compulsory from 60 months onwards). Full access to preschool education and an even quality of service will require a huge mobilisation of resources and intense preparations, especially given the uneven participation in preschool education across regions and socioeconomic groups at present. The Ministry of National Education’s ongoing EU-funded Strengthening Preschool Education Project, which is being conducted with UNICEF technical support, provides several useful models for scaling up in this context, including with respect to community-based models of provision.

5.1 Provision of childcare and preschool education: Early childhood is a critical period in the life of any human being. Children who are well cared for in their earliest years are more likely than other children not only to be healthy, as children and throughout their lives, but also to develop strong thinking, language, emotional and social skills. This in turn improves their prospects for performing well at school, making them less likely to drop out, and more likely to succeed. This is particularly true for children whose parents are poor or uneducated, whose home language is not Turkish or are otherwise disadvantaged. Accordingly, widespread participation in preschool education is also a way for improving equality of opportunity, which will otherwise be transmitted from generation to generation (World Bank: Turkey: Expanding Opportunities for the Next Generation – A report on life chances”, February 2010). Children who are well looked after in early childhood are also likely to display self-esteem as adolescents and to become creative and productive members of society in later life. By contrast, children who lack stimulation during the first few years of their lives, when their brains are developing most rapidly, may never achieve their full potential.

In Turkey, most children of pre-primary school age are looked after mainly by mothers or grandparents who may not have the knowledge or opportunity to stimulate their cognitive development sufficiently (See the section of this Situation Analysis on ‘Social conditions and the family environment’). The 2011 Family Structure Survey of the Ministry for the Family and Social Policies reportedly puts the number of families in which mothers are the prime care-givers for young children as high as 89.6%; grandparents are the prime-care givers in most other families, while this role is taken by crèches, fathers and nannies in only 2.4%, 1.5% and 1.2% of families respectively (No more detail was available at the time of writing). It can be assumed that young children who receive day care through crèches and paid nannies are mainly the children of relatively well-off parents able to afford the fees or wages, both of whom may be working.

Formal kindergartens or creches are operated by the Ministry for the Family and Social Services Directorate General for Child Services (the former Directorate-General for Social Services and the Child Protection Agency –SHÇEK), and by private entrepreneurs under the licensing and supervision of SHCEK. Preschool education is provided in state and private nursery schools and in nursery classes attached to state and private primary schools.

In addition to the above, some public institutions/private companies provide creche and preschool facilities for the children of their own public servants/employees. In the civil service, this type of provision has dwindled dramatically. For other workplaces, labour laws oblige employers with over 150 woman employees to establish a creche, incorporating a nursery school, where employees can breastfeed their infants and where the 0-6 year-old children of the employed women (and in some cases men) can be cared for and educated, in line with the needs of their age group. However, few employers employ 150 or more women in one place and even in such cases the obligation can be avoided. Since 2008 employers have been permitted to fulfil their obligation to establish a creche by reaching agreements with private nurseries. 

More informal forms of child day care and preschool education are provided on a limited scale through the informal education centres of the Ministry of National Education, community centres affiliated to SHÇEK or the Southeastern Anatolia Project Regional Development Administration, and the efforts of some municipalities and non-governmental organisations like ACEV, TGEV and KDEV. These have included summer and mobile preschools. There are also significant programmes for the training of parents and other caretakers of young children (See ‘Social conditions and the family environment’).

Expansion of preschool education: While only a few percent of children aged 0-3 benefit from formal day-care or creche facilities, close to half of all children aged 4-5 now take part in preschool education. Participation in preschool education has quintupled in the past decade, mainly as a result of rapid expansion of provision by the Ministry of National Education. For the 2011-2012 school year, the Ministry’s Formal Education Statistics put the net preschool enrolment rate at 30.87% for 3-5 year-olds, 44.04% for 4-5 year-olds and 65.69% for five year-olds only. Boys are slightly more likely to be enrolled in preschool education than girls: among 3-5 year-olds, the net enrolment ratio is 31.23% for boys and 30.49% for girls, and among five year-olds it is 66.20% for boys compared to 65.16% for girls. Of the 1.17 million preschool pupils, about 90% are receiving education in state schools, and four out of five of these children are in nursery classes attached to primary schools.

In a 2011 policy note entitled “Improving the Quality and Equity of Basic Education in Turkey: Challenges and Options” (http://go.worldbank.org/MM9KG62GG0), the World Bank comments that “The coverage rate for pre-primary education in Turkey remains low… compared to much higher rates for most countries with similar GDP per capita, like Bulgaria or Belarus… This problem is compounded by sharp differences in access across different socioeconomic backgrounds: although the poorest families have, on average, four more children than the richest, the latter group is 60 times more likely than the former to have at least one child enrolled in kindergarten (Aran et al., 2009)… The same note goes on to point to significant disparities in enrolment rates across regions, exacerbated by the fact that the Ministry began its 100% enrolment drive in provinces where sufficient facilities were available and enrolment was already high. To give an extreme example, the preschool enrolment rates for 4-5 year-olds is as low as 20.91% in in the province of Hakkari in the Southeast and as high as 80.52% in the Black Sea province of Amasya, according to Ministry of National Education Formal Education Statistics for the 2011-12 school year. The World Bank’s Country Partnership Strategy for Turkey for 2012-2015 includes improving the quality and coverage of early childhood education.

Needs analysis of preschool education: The Government and Ministry of National Education have repeatedly reaffirmed their commitment to expanding preschool education. However, there is concern that the physical and human resources needed to achieve this without any decline in quality may not be forthcoming. A recent “Review of Capacity in Preschool Education in Turkey” shows that the numbers of preschool teachers and classrooms belonging to the Ministry need to be tripled by comparison with 2010-11 if 70% enrolment is to be achieved among 4-5 year-olds by 2023 while maintaining a pupil-teacher ratio of 20 (slightly better than at present, but still below the OECD average of around 15).

The Review – which was drawn up as part of the Strengthening Preschool Education Project currently being carried out by the Ministry of National Education with the financial support of the EU and the technical support of UNICEF (See below) – also identifies other key issues in preschool education. These include: the qualifications and training of management and teachers; the quality and availability of in-service training; the safety and appropriacy of physical conditions in many schools; access for disabled children and the provision of education on an inclusive basis; adequacy of financial resources, ancillary staff and spending per pupil; the need for standards, regulation and inspections. Tackling such issues would require increased cooperation between institutions and administrative and technical capacity at the central and local levels in , including in-service training of inspectors and an increase in the numbers of pre-school education specialists among provincial/district administrators and inspectors.

In addition, the Review recommends a Pre-School Education Law setting out the responsibility of the state in preschool education and clarifying the roles and responsibilities of public institutions. It proposes that such a law should define community-based preschool education services and treat them as an integral part of the preschool education system. Without community-based services, there is a high risk that disadvantaged groups such as children from underdeveloped regions, low-income groups and Roma communities will be the last to be reached as provision is expanded, exacerbating disparities of opportunity within society and reinforcing cycles of poverty. Standards would need to be set and and inspection and supervision mechanisms implemented both for institutional and for community-based services.

Strengthening Preschool Education Project: Many of the issues mentioned in the above paragraphs – from the setting of standards to the upgrading of school equipment – have started to be addressed through the Strengthening Preschool Education project which the Ministry is carrying out with EU financial support and UNICEF technical assistance. The 43-month project, which runs until September 2013,  envisages the development and testing of a model for the broader implementation of quality, well-monitored community-based pre-school education and child day care services. This model is being piloted in selected provinces and costed. Meanwhile, all aspects of existing preschool education programmes are being reviewed and revised, and parenting education and child day care are being incorporated into the programmes. The preschool curriculum has been revised and updated by an expert team and service providers are to be trained on the upgraded curriculum. It is anticipated that necessary adjustments will be made in pre-service training programmes as a result of a dialogue with the Higher Education Council.

Demand for preschool education: Not all parents or guardians are enthusiastic about enrolling their children in preschool education. There is a widespread belief that care of young children – even up to school starting age - is primarily the responsibility of the mother. Some feel that it would be unkind to their children to send them to preschool education at an early age, or have doubts about their safety or the services provided. Conversely, many parents may be unaware of the benefits of preschool education for their children’s development. Such ideas may be shared to some extent by public officials, policy makers or opinion leaders. Accordingly, the Mother and Child Education Foundation (AÇEV) ran a campaign entitled “Seven is too late” in 2009. Views of this kind now appear to be on the decline.

Participation in preschool education may also be discouraged by the fees charged for preschool education (even at most state primary schools) and other hidden costs of schooling – especially as the mothers of the great majority of children do not work or are low earners. Non-governmental organisations have called for preschool education to be free of charge in state schools. The World Bank appears to favour a fee-paying system with special arrangements for disadvantaged children. The Ministry for the Family and Social Policies is understood to be considering expanding the conditional cash transfers (CCT) available to mothers sending their children to primary school to include mothers taking up preschool services.

Preschool education and the new school starting age: Under a law adopted by Parliament in March 2012, which restructures the education system in many ways (See section on ‘Children and the education system’), the starting age for primary schooling has been lowered from 72 months to 60 months. The change is being implemented as of the 2012 school year, albeit with some flexibility for children younger than 66 months. As primary school is nominally free of charge, this means that all children aged five will be entitled to education without fees. At the same time, however, the change has raised many new challenges for primary schools in areas like physical and human capacity, financial resources, suitability of school environments and curricula, and school-readiness of the five year-old children.

The policy of making preschool education compulsory for five year-olds has been superseded, as children in this cohort will from now on be attending primary school. According to a circular issued in May 2012, the Ministry of National Education is now aiming to achieve 100% schooling for 48-60 months by the end of 2013.

5.2 A vision for early childhood: At a a two-day international conference organised jointly by UNICEF and the World Bank in Ankara in October 2010, and attended by the ministers of both National Education and Health, early Childhood development (ECD) experts called not only for a rapid expansion of provision but also for closer integration of services within a holistic, child-centred approach. In view of the determinant nature of early childhood in the life cycle, and the importance of investing in children at this age for the future benefit of society, it might well be beneficial for Turkey to set out its vision for early childhood, incorporating monitorable goals for the well-being and development of young children at different ages. Goals might be set in areas like nutritional status, readiness for school and successful transition to primary school The necessary institutional and budgetary arrangements and policies for achieving and monitoring the goals could then be put in place, with special reference to disadvantaged groups such as children in underdeveloped regions and rural areas, children not living with both natural parents, and others. The existence of such goals and institutional arrangements would help to ensure that more resources were allocated to ECD, and especially to the 0-3 age group, filling a major gap in social protection (See ‘Social conditions and the family environment’). Coordination among existing policies and services - including institutional and flexible/community-based models of child day care and preschool, parenting education, the services provided in the health sector and social assistance/services - would be enhanced.

In 2009, ACEV suggested that, in order to be able to form and implement a coherent policy, which is able to use alternative models in different contexts, and to integrate early childhood development programs successfully into the early years of primary education, the institutional capacity of the Ministry of National Education needed to be improved, and the General Directorate for Pre-School Education should be transformed into a General Directorate for Early Childhood Development (Mother and Child Education Foundation (AÇEV): Türkiye’de Erken Çocukluk Eğitimi: Erişim, Eşitlik ve Kalite [Early Childhood Education: Access, Equality and Quality]). In 2011, however, the said Directorate-General was subordinated to a new Directorate General for Basic Education, with responsibility for both pre-primary and primary education.

Women’s work and early childhood development: Policies for young child development need to be linked to policies for women’s workforce participation and employment. In Turkey, workforce participation among women is very low, at 28.8% (including the unemployed), according to the annual average for 2011 published by the Turkish statistical Institute (Turkstat). Care of young children, or a lack of affordable child day care, may prevent mothers from joining the workforce, or force them to leave the workforce. This can have negative implications for the income of the family as well as for women’s own independence and well-being, and for the economy. On the other hand, demand for professional child day care and preschool services may be limited due to the low level of female workforce participation and the consequent availability of mothers to care for their own children. Such issues are currently being explored by UNICEF in conjunction with the Ministry for Development. Meanwhile, the Minister for the Family and Social Policies recently raised the possibility of a means-tested child day care allowance for working mothers. The Strengthening Preschool Education Project includes a sub-activity envisaging the training of women for possible employment both in institutional and community-based child day care services.

UNICEF Turkey Country Office, Yukarı Dikmen Mah. Alexsander Dubçek Cd. 7/106, 06450 Çankaya/Ankara. Telephone: +90 312 454 1000 Fax: +90 312 496 1461 E-mail: ankara@unicef.org